A young man came into the gallery one day and, like many, stood with his mouth agape staring at the art on the walls. “What is this?” he asked. “It’s mosaic!” I answered with a smile. “Well how do you make it? Where do you get all these little pieces of glass?” “We cut them,” I said with a little glow. “Cut them? You mean you have to cut every one of these pieces?” “Yes,” I said. “Every piece.” “Oh man,” he said. “Why would anyone do this? There’s got to be a way to streamline this process. Somebody needs to sell the glass already cut. Doesn’t anyone sell pre-cut glass?” “Well, possibly,” I said, “but then I wouldn’t be interested.”
And there you have the answer in a nutshell. I make mosaics because it’s hard.
During the monthly and often weekly classes I teach, new students will often take on a familiar stricken look when they first start cutting. I tell them to relax and cut for the pleasure of exploration — that making mosaics means learning the love to process. And the process is hard.
Some might say I like a hard life in general. I’m a good one for trudging through the minutiae of a situation, considering every possibility, and then selecting the most time and soul-consuming avenue. To me, this simply equates to actually living my life rather than just going through the motions. It’s the same way with cooking, planning, picking out (and decorating) a Christmas tree, traveling, thinking, loving, and art. Either I do it to the max, or I don’t do it at all. Otherwise, what have I gained? What have I given?
I love mosaic art. I love the interplay of color. I love the dancing of light. I love the intention of andamento and the way it makes your eyes move. I love the heft of a piece, and not only the weight of its gathered materials, but the sum of thought and labor involved. I love the antiquity of the artform and the accumulated labor of so many who have labored before me. But most of all, I like the slow, intentional, repetitive, considered and exacted repetition and thrill of determining the perfect cut, achieving it, and fitting it into place to create, many hours and days and weeks and sometimes months later, a piece of art that demanded and received my full attention — my full passion.
One of my favorite mantras is from the movie “A League of their Own,” when Gina Davis admits that something is hard. Tom Hanks (isn’t it always Tom Hanks?) says “Of course it’s hard. If it was easy, everyone would do it. The Hard is what makes it Good.” He’s so right.
It’s a funny thing about “easy.” There are many things that I do because they are “easy” for me, like sorting or folding laundry or unloading the dishwasher or writing a press release — I can have them done in the time it takes to think “oh — I should do this.” Accomplishment is a powerful feel-good, and we can rack up way more of the easies than the hards. But does that make them good? Well, no. None of my easies will ever make it to my Very Favorite Things list.
But give me something hard: determining and creating the ideal ratio of perfect cuts to “human touch” in art, cooking the (very) occasional meal that takes alllllllll day, raising a child, or growing the balls to be my fullest self, and I’m all over it.
So yeah. I love mosaic because it’s damn hard. I think we all need to love and engage in something that tests us, that pushes us flat up against the wall and says, “Do your best. Now.” What tests you? And what do you love about it?